montecillo rioja reserva 2003, crianza 2007

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COST: $17-20, Reserva, $11-13, Crianza

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WHAT: Spanish Riojas are an excellent value right now, and the Montecillo is a great example of that. Both wines are made from 100 percent Tempranillo grapes and offer a great dusty dry Rioja flavor. These wines are as good as some New World wines that sell for twice the price.

The Crianza is a beautiful ruby red with aromas of plums. It opens with flavors of blackberries and hints of vanilla. Everything is nicely in balance, and it has enough acidity to make a good food wine. The wine was fermented for 12 days before going into Bordeaux-style French oak casks for 12 months. The grapes come from vines that are at least 25 years old.

The Reserva fermented for 20 days and then aged for 18 months in untoasted French oak barriques. It spends at least another 18 months aging in the bottle. It is a deeper red, but still clean and brilliant. The nose has notes of spice and vanilla.

The Reserva clearly was made with aging in mind, while the Crianza is meant to be drunk now. Serve both wines slightly chilled, perhaps 10-15 minutes in the refrigerator. Open the Reserva about an hour before serving.

WINERY: Rioja is one of the most famous wine regions in Spain and in the world, and Bodegas Montecillo is one of the Rioja region's oldest wineries, dating back to 1874. It was one of the first to adapt Bordeaux winemaking techniques to Spanish grapes. The winery was bought in 1973 by the Osborne family. Winemaker Maria Martinez Sierra is one of the best known in Europe and has been at Montecillo for more than 30 years.

GOES WITH: Both wines are great with food. I had the Reserva with my favorite deep-dish Chicago pizza from Lou Malnati's, and it was fantastic. I think it would go well with meat on the grill, especially duck, stew, full-flavored fish such as tuna and spicy dishes. The Crianza is a little lighter. I had it with spaghetti and tomato sauce, and it was great. It also would pair well with sausage, lamb, light cheeses and probably even barbecue.

WINE EVENTS

THURSDAY

Wine and tapas tasting, 5 p.m., Veritas at La Maison on Telfair, 404 Telfair St.; four wines, three tapas, $19.99

FRIDAY

Charity wine tasting, 6:30-9:30 p.m., St. Paul's River Room, 600 Reynolds St.; $50; fundraiser for Alzheimer's Association; food, wine, art, prizes, auction.

Wine tasting, 7 p.m., Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; $15 prepaid reservation, $20 at door; Mark Carnucci showcases premium California wines from Benziger, Foley, Sequoia Grove, Cakebread.

Tasting, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road

SATURDAY

Tasting, 1-6 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road

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